Mark 1:29-31: The Healing of Simon’s Mother in Law & The Collins Street Baptist Church Deacons’ Room
If, as Ched Myers says in Say to this Mountain,
“There is no case of healing and exorcism in Mark that does not also raise a larger question about social oppression.”
What could possibly be the significance of the seemingly benign healing of Simon Peter’s mother in law of a fever?
It can be found in the descpription of the mothers actions in “serving them” post healing.
Various translations do various things with the Greek word diakonia which has been variously translated as
“she waited on them” (Amplified / NIV)
“she served them a meal” (Contemporary English Version)
“she was up fixing dinner for them.” (The Message)
These later ones perhaps have more to do with white, Western, male bible translators who return home from the office after a hard days translating to a home cooked meal from their wives than they do with the context of the ancient world and Marks Gospel.
For Mark, “service” is critical to true discipleship. Apart from this instance at the beginning, the word only appears two other times in Mark’s Story. It is used at the mid point of the story (Mark 9:35; 10:43) when it is used by Jesus as a rebuke to counter the misunderstanding of the nature of discipleship from his core group of three male disciples. “The greatest among you will serve.”
The final time is at the very end of the story. Jesus has gone to the cross and the male disciples have failed and fled and have effectively been replaced by the new group of three; all women, as the new core.
Not only have they endured to the cross but they are characterised as having ‘followed on the way’ and of ‘serving’ (all key images of true discipleship in Mark’s Story). In an ancient, traditional culture of highly structured gender roles the ministry of Mark’s Jesus will be one that crashes the ceiling of division between men and women.
We like to tell the story that has been passed down to us (apocryphal or not??!!) of a time in the churches history when all the diaconate were men.
Apparently the wives of the deacons would cook dinner for the men and, at 8pm, as dinner was being cleaned up and dishes taken back up to the private household on Level 9 (still used by Urban Seed residents today), the chair would announce, “Gentlemen, you may light you cigars.” Apparently the roof was at one time yellow with the smoke stains!
The men would sit back in their seats and smoke as the meeting got underway but everyone knew that if you wanted to get something done or decided at the church the meeting that mattered most was actually going on upstairs, held over the dishes, where it was the women who were ‘leading’, ‘serving’, ad-‘ministering’ the church.
Of all the translations I love the mutuality expressed in Fair Dinkum Mark by Athol Gill and Keith Dyer…
Mark 1:31 And he came and took her by the hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she was ministering to them.
(An aside…. I once remember Peter Hearne, who has served as a deacon for the best part of half a century making a comment as alcoholic drinks were being served at a recent church luncheon about how not so long ago such a thing would have been considered sacrilege but smoking was fine. Now it is the opposite!)